Thursday, January 15, 2015

Chazal Said It First!

Over the last fifteen years or so, I have investigated dozens of claims that the Gemara knew something that modern science only discovered centuries later. Initially I was very excited about such possibilities, but as I researched them, disappointment set in. In every case, I found that it was either (a) something that non-Jews in antiquity also knew, (b) something ambiguous that could be interpreted in all kinds of ways, or (c) something that is not actually true.

I am pleased to report that, finally, somebody has found something! Dr. Jeremy Brown, author of the superb book New Heavens and a New Earth: The Jewish Reaction to Copernican Thought, has launched a wonderful new blog called Talmudology. In a recent post, he discusses Rava's statement (Yevamot 97a) that delayed puberty in boys can be caused by their being either overweight or underweight. According to Dr. Brown, this has only recently been confirmed by modern science. So far, ancient sources discussing such a concept have not been found (but feel free to search!) It seems that Rava deserves credit for being the first person to state this fact.

Still, I don't think that Rava obtained this information from Sinaitic tradition, ruach hakodesh, or some talent for deriving scientific facts from Torah texts. (My reason for not believing that it was due to that is that if such possibilities were available, surely they would have been available for more significant matters, such as the basic nature of the universe, the function of different parts of the body, etc.) So how did he know it? I don't know. Perhaps it was a good intuition based on his understanding of health.

*  *  *

In other news, the hot item right now in the world of Jewish scholarship is Dr. Marc Shapiro's critique of Artscroll's response regarding why they omitted portions of Rashbam's commentary to the Torah in their new Mikraos Gedolos. Artscroll justified their omission with the claim that the omitted portions were interpolations by a heretic. (This is a position that we have seen all too much of in recent years, with Rav Yitzchok Sheiner claiming that portions of Michtav Me-Eliyahu are a forgery, Rav Moshe Shapiro claiming that Rav Hirsch's letters on science are a forgery, and Rabbi Moshe Meiselman claiming that parts of R. Avraham ben HaRambam are a forgery.) Dr. Shapiro responds by pointing out that numerous Torah authorities - including one of ArtScroll's guiding mentors, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky - discussed the passage in question, and none of them rejected it as a forgery by heretics.  Make sure to read the endnotes!

49 comments:

  1. Rav Yitzchok Sheiner claiming that portions of Michtav Me-Eliyahu are a forgery"

    I never heard of this. Which portions?

    Both R. Aharon Feldman(about Michtav Meliyahu) and R. Elyashiv conceded that there exist "non-Yeshivish" sources that could be found in the Cairo Genizah, if not elsewhere:

    R. Aharon Feldman wrote about the approach considered kefirah, "This approach is mentioned by many eminent authorities in Jewish history...Rabbi Aryeh Carmel, citing an informal conversation with Rav Dessler, in a footnote to Michtav MeEliahu IV p. 355 that the Sages never erred in the final halacha, although they may have erred in the reason they gave for it."

    R. Eidensohn wrote about his writing his “Daas Torah” book:

    "I then went to Rav Eliashiv - he told me simply that there is no problem of raising issues and presenting multiple alternatives - as long as the source material was from mainstream accepted views. He did not see a problem "as long as I did not present sources from the Cairo Geniza." In regards to the issue of confusion - he said simply "let them ask their rebbes and rosh yeshiva." You don't avoid teaching Torah because it raises questions."

    ("Questions I - what? vs why? vs silence?" , Daas Torah Blog, 12/4/08)

    R. Elyashiv is not necessarily saying that the sources in the Cairo Genizah are forgeries.

    Artscroll believes in protecting the faith of its varied readership, a valid and understandable concern. R. Eidensohn writes about his "Daas Torah" book, "When I first started working on it I consulted a famous rabbi connected with Artscroll. He told me point blank - "you are a danger to klall Yisroel. You are going to cause confusion and doubt by telling people that there are multiple ways of understanding fundamental hashkofa issues."

    In an article in Haaretz(“Only in America”, 8/05) Micha Odenheimer quotes an anonymous Lakewood intellectual,

    "The bans, I was told, were the result of pressure exerted on the ultra-Orthodox leadership by purists in Israel, who found allies within the Lakewood community itself. "The leadership is aware that it is walking a tightrope," I was told by one Lakewood intellectual, whose shelves hold books on Biblical archaeology and the latest scientific theories. "There are many different layers to the Haredi community. Here in Lakewood you have a community with thousands of people but no TV, no radio, no free press, and no magazines. Some people are very sophisticated intellectually - for them that won't work. But other people need the insularity - they couldn't handle things that might undermine their faith. So how do you balance a sophisticated worldview with the need to keep things under wraps? This balancing act requires a certain amount of control, to protect the general public from harm. One result of this is that you don't have the checks and balances you need. It would be healthy for the Haredi world to have more freedom of press to check the unlimited power of the leadership. But a totally free press - you can't have it. So you have an official line, and reality, and they balance each other out."

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  2. "So far, ancient sources discussing such a concept have not been found (but feel free to search!) It seems that Rava deserves credit for being the first person to state this fact."

    Regarding proving Torah from science:

    If a Chinese source would say something before modern science, would we say that this shows the Chinese had Ruach Hakodesh? (R. Aharon Feldman wrote," This is not because they considered the Sages greater scientists than their modern counterparts.... That they were in contact with such sources in undeniable. How else could we explain numerous examples where the Sages had scientific information which no scientist of their time had?).

    Also, if Chazal contradicts contemporary science, Chazal is reinterpreted(the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim indeed said he would reinterpret Bereishis). If so, how can one bring a proof when Chazal matches science, since it may not be literal ?

    IIRC, the Chazon Ish in Emunah Ubitachon points to the knowledge of ancient civilizations, in general.

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    1. Can you cite where exactly in Emunah Ubitachon that is? Thanks

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    2. 5:2, where the Chazon Ish refers to the wisdom of Egypt, Rome, and Africa(the Chazon Ish's opinion regarding saying Chazal erred is a separate subject discussed elsewhere in his writings)

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  3. Wrong. There aren't countless Rishonim who discuss the passage in question. That would imply rishonim quoting the rashbam as explaining the night follows day. What Shapiro shows is some rishonim who might make similar points.

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    1. Agree with Harry.
      Rabbi Slifkin, you have grossly exaggerated Dr. Shapiro's claims in your zeal to discredit Artscroll.

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    2. You are correct - my apologies. I have corrected the post.

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  4. I'm not sure being "right" is meaningful here. Chazal made lots of "scientific" and other worldly statements, some right, most wrong. If you throw enough stuff out there you're bound to get something right once in while. I think it's more akin to the broken clock being right twice a day.

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  5. Uh, pretty sure that's not what the Gemara is saying. The Gemara uses the word 'דנתרי', the Aramaic equivalent of שנושרים, meaning that Rava said that puberty had arrived but that the hairs were falling out, no that puberty was delayed.

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  6. Replies
    1. I, for one, am happy that the earth has not been shattered :).

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  7. rabbi siflikin why did you not mention the soncino plagiarism explicitly is there an issur L"H on a corporation? is there a statue of limitations for loosing all respect for a publisher?

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    1. While it is clear that Soncino was consulted (due to some odd phraseology making its way into the AS text), the charges of plagiarism are a little stretched. Re-read the passages then compare and contrast. We are not talking about paragraphs or even sentences being lifted.

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  8. RNS,

    Regarding Chazal knowing something before modern science - what about the gemara in Rosh Hashana where Rabban Gamliel cites a figure for the length of a day that is in consonance with modern calculations to a remarkable degree? Is that a good example, or is there a reason you disregard that one?

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    1. Please give more detail. I haven't seen this one before.

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    2. You mean the average length of a month, from Rosh Hashanah 25a.

      It's not a good example because the same value was known centuries earlier to the Babylonians and Greeks, who found it by counting the months between two solar eclipses.

      Delete
  9. I can't comment on the statement by Rava since I could not find the citation in Yev. 79a. In any case, one example - if it is an example of prescient talmudic knowledge of the world, does not constitute a demonstration of such knowledge in other worldly matters. As to the Art Scroll description of the Rashbam's commentary on the biblical day as proceeding from one morning to the next as the work of a heretic, is nonsense. They simply don't understand the commentary, or are catering to the willfully ignorant. It is almost a half century since I saw the 'full' Rashbam commentary on Genesis in the Shulsinger Press 6 volume Mikra'ot Gedolot set, and I may confuse my own interpretation with that given in the commentary. In any case, the Rashbam is correct in his understanding of the peshat in the torah dealing with the definition of a biblical day. It is the most sensible way of understanding "vayehi erev, vayehi boker - yom ___ as the conclusion of the day's creative activities. It then became evening, followed by morning - (the completion of) day __. Moreover, Ex. 12:18 states, "You shall eat matzot in the first month, on the 14th day of the month at night, until the night of the 21st day of the month". Note that the night here follows the day, i.e., the start of the Chag Hamatzot is called the night of the 14th - not the night of the 15th (the more conventional Rabbinic phraseology). Matzot are to be eaten until the night following the 21st day of the month. Nor is this way of regarding the day something that ceased once the torah was given. The times for eating the korbonot are also reckoned as day-night or day-night-day, i.e., with the night following the day. However, the most revealing verse occurs later in Lev. 23:32 in the parsha dealing with Yom Kippur. "It shall be a (day of) complete cessation (of work) for you and you shall afflict your spirit (fast) on the 9th day (of the 7th month) at night; your cessations of the sabbaths (shabbatchem) shall be from night to night". Note that erev Yom Kippur is called the night of the 9th day (not the 10th day). However, this verse also alludes to the fact that all our sabbaths, whether Shabbat or holidays, are to last from evening to evening - regardless of when the day officially begins. Hence, there is no contradiction between this understanding of the biblical day and the relevant biblical laws. For example a boy born say on motza'ei shabbat will not have his brit until the following Sunday, i.e., until after a complete 7 day period has passed (a brit can't be done at night).

    Y. Aharon

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  10. Reginald is home with the fluJanuary 16, 2015 at 8:04 AM

    "... disappointment set in. In every case, I found that... (but) I am pleased to report that, finally, somebody has found something!
    Thank you for addressing my request in your previous post, even if only by coincidence.

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  11. "In every case, I found that it was either (a) something that non-Jews in antiquity also knew"

    That's a huge problem. Few people today, goyim included, have anything remotely resembling a classical education. Frum jews in particular, who don't have much of an education to begin with beyond Talmud, have practically zero exposure to the ancient Greeks or Romans. To them (us), chazal - and all chazal is the same, of course - is "ancient". So few are aware of the vast breadth of knowledge the ancients had, many centuries before chazal.

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  12. Mi Yodeya is amassing a collection of claims, some more convincing than others, of instances of the rabbis being ahead of their times, scientifically. I've just added this one to the list.

    http://judaism.stackexchange.com/q/22851/2

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  13. To be perfectly frank, R' Slifkin, I found it somewhat bizarre that you, of all people, would comment on this in such a fashion. Michael (commenting above) is very right here -- the fact that the ancients made innumerable claims makes it very likely that something they once said will fall in line with realities of the universe.

    This reminds me of a lecture given by Rabbi Jonathan Rietti in which he elaborates on the wondrous medical recommendations of the Rambam. He speaks at length about health and diet and nutrition and exercise and that's great -- but he attributes all of this to the Rambam and to Judaism. And yet what about all the ridiculous things recommended by the Rambam and the Talmud, such as the medical recommendations of the 7th perek of Gittin?

    Rabbi Mordechai Becher (another Gateways favorite) has a fascinating lecture about meeting up with missionaries on multiple occasions and defusing their arguments. At one point, he challenges them on some of the very many offensive positions held by the likes of Martin Luther (the rabid anti-semitic Christian reformist, not MLK Jr.), to which they responded, "Oh, well, we don't really agree with everything he said," to which R' Becher responds (paraphrasing here), "Well, if we're going to pick and choose, then anything Martin Luther said that Maimonides agrees with, I agree with, but anything he said that Maimonides does not agree with, I do not agree with. So you see, I'm just as much of follower of Martin Luther as you two are, so why are you here bothering me?"

    My point here is that to retroactively praise Chazal when they "got it right" while accept the fact that they got so very many other things wrong -- both when they went out on a limb and when they were merely accepting the truths of the day -- is just plain silly and very misleading, as is Rabbi Rietti when he quotes Maimonides out of context to say that we ought to follow what he says. We're only following the things that we know to be true and we're leaving out all the rubbish -- so how is that "following" Maimonides? Well, I say it's not.

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  14. I agree with Critic now that I see the reference to Yev. 97a (not 79a). The case there is about a male of at least 20 years of age. I don't see the evidence that puberty can be delayed that much merely due to being seriously under or overweight - unless we're considering extreme cases. Besides, as Critic pointed out, Rava alludes to the loss of pubic hairs rather than never having them. If there is a serious endocrine problem, a dietary regimen may help but is unlikely to solve it. Hence even this attempt at attributing special knowledge of the world to the Talmudic sages is unconvincing.

    Raffi, what specifically are you referring to? Remember, they did not have an accurate way of measuring shorter time intervals. They could assume that the full day was a constant 24 hours and express the length of a solar year in terms of elapsed days and hours, etc. (Shmuel's assumed solar year of 365.25 days is, however, inaccurate albeit conventional until the 17th century or later when the Julian reckoning was slowly supplanted by the Gregorian calendrical modification). How did they accurately measure hours, minutes, etc? The conventional Talmudic figure of average time to walk a mil at the rate of 40 mil during daytime is hardly an accurate measure.

    Y. Aharon

    Y. Aharon

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  15. I think Critic should re-read Rashi, and the Artscroll and Soncino translations. They all read the text as I did, and contra Critic. Then look at the Soncino note (Yevamot 97a note 21), which cites a MS reading that further supports my contention that this is a case of delayed puberty.

    The Soncino brings our attention to a similar passage in Bava Basra (155b) said in the name of R Hiyya. Tosafot there corrects the wording in our passage in Yevamot, removing the words דנתרי (the one on which Critic hinges his argument) replacing them with דאתו. Incidentally the passage in Bava Basra is said in the name of R. Hiyya who lived at the end of the second century, and so before Rava, so perhaps the Nobel Prize belongs to him, and not to Rava….

    The Koren (Steinsaltz) edition does have the translation Critic mentioned –but only in part and this does not detract from the meaning of the passage in any way: The Koren edition translates the passage thus: “When they would come before Rava to inquire about someone who had reached the age of maturity but had not yet developed the physical signs…” The development of pubic hair is of course only one of those signs.

    One more point has come up in some of the comments posted on Rationalist Judaism and deserves a response. In my post I did not suggest how Rava (or R. Hiyya) got to their observation, and the truth is that it really does not matter. Consider this, taken from WIKI:

    “The accidental discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation is a major development in modern physical cosmology. Although predicted by earlier theories, it was first found accidentally by Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson as they experimented with the Holmdel Horn Antenna. The discovery was evidence for an expanding universe, (big bang theory) and was evidence against the steady state model. In 1978, Penzias and Wilson were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for their joint discovery.”

    Got that? They found it accidentally, and got a Nobel prize for it. (Yes, I know it’s a little bit more complicated than that. It always is. But I’m trying to make a point here…)

    Another example: Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, and was justly awarded a Nobel prize. Yet his discovery was completely accidental. Again, this from the all-knowing WIKI:

    “[Fleming] was already well-known from his earlier work, and had developed a reputation as a brilliant researcher, but his laboratory was often untidy. On 3 September 1928, Fleming returned to his laboratory having spent August on holiday with his family. Before leaving, he had stacked all his cultures of staphylococci on a bench in a corner of his laboratory. On returning, Fleming noticed that one culture was contaminated with a fungus, and that the colonies of staphylococci immediately surrounding the fungus had been destroyed, whereas other staphylococci colonies farther away were normal, famously remarking, "That's funny".”

    So the point is not how the discovery was made, but that it was made and shown to be correct. It is for this that we give credit, and so we should.

    Jeremy Brown

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    1. That's a rather funny way to look at the world. If I make 1000 random guesses about things and one of them turns out to be correct, I should get some kind of great credit? Why? The scientists that you mention were experts in their fields, and although they may have stumbled on something accidentally, they were not shooting in the dark. If there was some evidence that Rava was an experienced physiologist or anatomist and his opinions were grounded in some study of the human body, then we might be able to give him credit. If he had described his opinion as being derived from observation (e.g., that he observed many instances of malnourished children having delayed puberty), we might give him some credit at least for recognizing a pattern. In the absence of that, we would have to consider it just a lucky guess.

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  16. Yet Yevamoth 97A is discussing Halizah for Levirate law - an questionable law the way the Torah mandates it. (I wote a blogpost on it). Speaking of Halizah - there is a movie about it called Loving Leah. Anyway, at times the Rabbi's had to be observant of nature when applying Torah laws and no doubt may have discovered things that other cultures would not have noticed or cared about. For example, the Rabbi's noticed a correlation of certain physical manifestation with the danger of circumcision. I would not be surprised there are many more examples.

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  17. So how did Rambam know that pi is an infinite non-repeating decimal 600 years before mathematicians proved it - and without calculus (commentary on Mishna Eruvin ch. 1 d"h hayata shel kash)? Interestingly Baalei HaTosefot did not know this but were willing to accept the estimation current in their time that it is 3-1/7 (Eruvin 14a d"h v'haicha).

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    1. First of all, while Rambam was the first to write this explicitly, it had already been hinted at by earlier Greek writers. Secondly, Rambam certainly did not attain this knowledge via kabbalah or some other such source. Rambam himself wrote that even Chazal had no such supernatural sources of knowledge; he certainly did not consider himself to be privy to kabbalistic secrets!

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    2. Rabbi Slifkin,

      Regarding knowledge of the visibility of the new moon (Sefer Zemanim 11:3), Rambam writes that we possess some traditions about these matters from our Sages. Later on, Rambam writes that we don't have the texts of Shevet Yissochar (17:24) regarding these calculations.

      True, Rambam admits that we are currently using the Greek calculations. But none of what I just wrote supports the assertion that Rambam believed that Chazal had no "supernatural" sources of knowledge.

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    3. Rambam didn't know it, he conjectured it. (Or something like that because he doesn't actually come out and say it is irrational, although that may be what he intended). In mathematics, you don't know something until you have a proof. The ancient Greeks knew that the square root of two is irrational because they had a proof (which is quite simple if you know a bit of math).

      The true greatness of the Rambam scientifically is most probably in his rejection of astrology, his rationalization of medicine, his rejection of magic and witchcraft, and his banishment of demons and other "spiritual" forces as the cause of human ills. Unfortunately, it is hard for some Jews to embrace this because it goes against their own belief system.

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  18. R' Slifkin,

    Consider the Medrash on this past week's parsha: In explaining the name "El Shaddai", Chazal expound it in the following way: "The one who said his world: enough!("dai"- "enough" )." This sounds awfully similar to the current understanding of the Big Bang, wouldn't you say?

    To explain this fully, I recommend everyone to look at Rabbi David Fohrman's fantastic video about this:

    https://www.alephbeta.org/course/lecture/vaera-seeing-god-i

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  19. A couple of examples which I remember in the last ten years:

    1) Guess what?! Men and women ARE wired differently! For 30-40 years feminism fought the great crusade of emancipating women. How? By making her - HIM!! Judaism's view was always that they are different, each one special in their own unique way. The cause of women will not be advanced by turning them into men. Oh, how we were laughed at... The Rabbis were seen as living in the dark ages, "Off with their heads!"

    2) In the 60's through the 90's, if you were angry, you were meant to release it. Let it all hang out, because if you repress it, it will be much worse, so just let it all out. If you'll attempt to contain it, you'll go postal; there will be a guaranteed volcanic eruption. So better, find a target for your rage, an outlet. Break the chair - not your students face. Such sagely, sound, scholarly, sane - insane advice. The Torah's view is that anger is one of the greatest sins, it must immediately be suppressed. Go silent and be still, let the anger die. “No!” screamed the "experts", “it's only going to exasperate the condition, it will only explode more horrifically later on.” Now, we know better. There's something called Anger-Management. You've got to control it, and not let it control you. Once again, the Torah is right. 10 years ago such talk was only what Rabbis suggested.

    [Some Rabbinic scholar should write a book one day titled "The Facade & Farce of False Facts vs. Torah Truths”, containing many, many examples of this travesty of truth. The great community of scientific pseudo-intellectuals spouting expertise and proficiency, whilst in reality full of their own agendas and preconceived notions, ultimately proven wrong. An important book waiting to be written.]

    3) Here in Australia, the latest example: Forest fires. For the past 40-50 years, the scientific community had all the evidence to prove how they were terrible, destructive things that only brought devastation and death in their wake. Now we know better. It's shocking to say this, my friends, but forest fires are actually very, very good things. We need forest fires to cleanse, purify, detoxify and bring new life. Get rid of the old - in with the new. It's the cycle of life and existence. Some species have now only become discovered because of forest fires!

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  20. Hi, JB. I'm afraid I don't have a copy of those translations handy.

    The standard text of Yevamos (whatever that's worth) reads: הני סימנין זמנין דנתרי מחמת כחישותא וזמנין דנתרי מחמת בריותא. That clearly means that Rava did not believe he was dealing with delayed puberty, but rather that puberty had arrived yet the sole metric halacha relies on wasn't detectable due to the pubic hair falling out, and he believed in turn that this could be affected by one's diet. It should be noted that nowhere is there an indication that Rava was dealing with the obese and the emaciated (בריא means hale and hearty, which was associated with plumpness). A simple reading is that anyone who showed up at his door was instructed to switch to the opposite diet. This means that he believed that pubic hair could fall out in random people due to being thin, and in other random people due to being fat.

    Rashi writes: עד כמה - נידון כקטן; כי אתו לקמיה דרבא - בן כ' שלא הביא, למבדק אי משום קטנות אי משום סריסות. Rashi's words have no impact on our discussion. There is no reason to believe that Rava's advice worked in every case. There were plenty of individuals who indeed experienced delayed puberty for whatever reason, and they were apparently visiting Rava to check for signs of natural impotence. Rava would then suggest that perhaps some of these 'adult children' had actually reached puberty but the hair had fallen out, and changing the diet would stop that from happening, but these were mostly people who were in fact either קטנים or סריסים.

    The standard text of Bava Basra reads: הני סימני זמנין דאתו מחמת כחישותא זמנין דאתו מחמת בריותא. Again, there is no indication that this concerns the obese or the emaciated. R. Chiya was simply saying that he believed that certain random people needed to be thin in order to trigger puberty, while other random people needed to be fat. Since דאתו is a positive, he is only offering a solution, not offering a theory as to what went wrong like the text in Yevamos.

    Rashi here writes: כי אתו לקמיה - המתעכבין יותר מדאי להביא שערות; אכחשוהו - דלמא מחמת בריאותא נתרו להו. Rashi clearly uses the word נתרו here as well, indicating that in his view the text in Bava Basra agrees with the theory we are familiar with from Yevamos.

    Tosfos write: הכי גריס ר"ת דזימנין דאתי מחמת בריאותא וזימנין דאתו מחמת כחישותא, והכי גרסי' בהאשה רבה בכל הספרים, וכך נראה יותר דכי אתו לקמיה דרבי חייא משמע שעדיין לא הביאו שתי שערות ולכך אמר להבריאם או להכחישם כדי להביא שערות, ולא כספרים דגרסי זימנא דנתרי מחמת בריותן. Tosfos dislike the notion (or text) advanced by Rashi that these people may have reached puberty all along. But as explained above, there still is no indication anywhere that delayed puberty was caused by obesity or emaciation.

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  21. The commentary on Bava Basra quoted in my last comment is Rashbam, not Rashi (almost like how the blog post we're commenting on originally read Rashba instead of Rashbam!).

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  22. DRosenbach writes: "My point here is that to retroactively praise Chazal when they "got it right" while accept the fact that they got so very many other things wrong -- both when they went out on a limb and when they were merely accepting the truths of the day -- is just plain silly and very misleading"
    Well, I don't think R' Slifkin was /praising/ Chazal. Simple as that.
    (And Isaac Moses, thanks for sharing that link.)

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    1. To begin, my post had an unfortunate typo that's not nearly as easily correctable as it ought to be -- I meant to write "...to retroactively praise Chazal when they "got it right" while accepting the fact that they got so very many other things wrong..." -- just wanted to set that straight.

      I think R' Slifkin was praising Chazal here by opening with "Chazal said it first!" and writing "I am pleased to report that, finally, somebody has found something!"

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    2. I submit that was just a rhetorical device on R' Slifkin's part and not a real "praise." When R' Slifkin chimes in, we'll know for sure.

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  23. Avi, I see no indication from the Rambam's commentary in Mishnayot Eruvin that he was ahead of his times in his understanding of the value of pi. He refers to various attempts by mathematicians to arrive at increasingly accurate measures of pi. He acknowledges the commonly used approximation of 22/7 that originated in ancient times, but states that the 'true' value is unknowable. The Tosafot in Eruvin 14a that you cited only mention that the value of pi is greater than the Talmudic value of 3, and offer demonstrations from that Gemara and the discussion in Bava Batra about the sefer torah allegedly in the inner sanctum ark that 3 is taken as the 'true' value. They don't offer 22/7 as the better approximation. Incidentally, the Tosafot in Eruvin 56b, 57a (also in Succah 8a) provide excellent demonstrations that the area of a circle is pi x radius squared and that the diagonal of a square is somewhat greater than the Talmudic 7/5 times the side.

    Y. Aharon

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  24. I may have found an example where "chazal said it first". Around 1705, Edmund Halley used Isaac Newton's laws of physics to determine that several comets seen over many, many years were actually the same comet with a periodicity of approximately 76 years. This comet was later named Halley's Comet. I had the good fortune to see it when it appeared in 1986.

    If you look in Wikipedia, under "Halley's Comet", in the section entitled Computation of Orbit, you will find the following note:

    "The possibility has been raised that first-century Jewish astronomers already had recognized Halley's Comet as periodic. This theory notes a passage in the Talmud that refers to "a star which appears once in seventy years that makes the captains of the ships err."

    The Talmudic reference is to Tractate Horioth page 10a.

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    1. Maybe. The problem is that chazal also use the term "70 years" as a generic term meaning "a long time." Such as "a beis din that kiils every 70 years is called destructive." Or "the chilazon only appears every 70 years."

      DF

      Delete
    2. Also note that R. Yehoshua there used the word "star" (kochav) whereas the word for comets used in the mishna in Berachos is "zikin".

      These are not necessarily dispositive arguments, but it shows the Talmudic reference is not clear.

      Delete
  25. MK, the Rambam clearly states in your cited text that we rely on Greek calculations for the details of determining the appearance of the moon and other bodies at night since they are capable of proof. Those traditions that aren't verifiable are not germane. For example, in hilchot Hachodesh 1:3, the Rambam states that the moon is invisible around the time of the lunar conjunction for about 2 days. In T.B. Rosh Hashannah 20b, in contrast, there is an undisputed statement that such invisibility lasts 1 day. Clearly, the Rambam chooses the empirical observation over some Talmudic tradition.

    Y. Aharon

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    1. Y. Aharon,

      Rambam writes, "We also possess traditions regarding these principles that we have received from the sages, and proofs that were not written in texts that are of common knowledge." I already said that the Rambam admits that we are using the Greek calculations. But he also clearly says that we have traditions regarding these principals received from Chazal. Clearly then, the Rambam believed that Chazal had supernatural sources of knowledge.

      Additionally, Rambam writes that we no longer have the texts from Shevet Yissochar. Presumably, he thought they were somewhat correct.

      The point is not whether the Rambam is choosing empirical observation over tradition. The point is, whether the Rambam believes that the tradition exists or ever existed. It seems to me that he does.

      Delete
    2. But he also clearly says that we have traditions regarding these principals received from Chazal. Clearly then, the Rambam believed that Chazal had supernatural sources of knowledge.

      Non sequitur.

      Delete
  26. Look up Torah and Science by Yosef Mizrachi on YouTube. What do you think of that?

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    Replies
    1. I have a very, very low opinion of him. See the Facebook page "Exposing "Rabbi" Yosef Mizrachi"

      Delete
    2. That FB page is pure loshon hara.

      Delete
  27. Brooklyn Refugee SheygitzJanuary 21, 2015 at 2:09 PM

    the footnotes are VERY important. Let's not get bogged down on the "plagiarism" issue.
    I think the genaivat daat issue is much much worse. If you sell a book which says that you reviewed X sources or compared Y and Z manuscripts, and reality you had also reviewed additional sources, or extrapolated the manuscript data from someone else's work and never actually looked at the manuscript, to my mine there are serious de'orayta issues of geneivat daat and onaat mamon involved.

    ReplyDelete

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